The traditional approach to preparing a research report for publication is to begin writing after the study has been completed. We propose another approach- to write a "zeroth" draft before the study is begun. This approach helps to focus the investigator's attention during the planning stage on critical aspects of the study. The discipline of writing down the rationale, the methods, and the variety of possible outcomes and their significance helps to clarify the logic on which the study is based. If these are acceptable to all authors and colleagues in the zeroth draft, it is likely that the research questions posed will be answered in a definitive way and that the final draft will be scientifically sound. The notion of writing a paper before doing the research may raise concerns of prejudice, preconception, or even academic dishonesty. How could one possibly know what to write until after the study is completed? However, if one considers the actual content of a scientific paper or research report, it becomes clear that most of the report can be drafted before the first data are collected. The process is in many ways similar to that of preparing a formal proposal to a funding agency. Indeed, a grant application may borrow heavily from the zeroth draft of the paper, and vice versa. The content of the zeroth draft is only the first of a series of approximations to the final form. Yet, it can be a very useful beginning. Authors often procrastinate when faced with writing up the results of completed research projects and may find it much easier to write at the beginning of a project when enthusiasm is at its peak. Most importantly, there may be no better way to prepare the mind, anticipate pitfalls, and avoid wasted time, effort, and money than to write a zeroth draft.
Date of this Version
Babbs, Charles F. and Tacker, Martha M., "Writing a Scientific Paper Prior to the Research" (1985). Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering Faculty Publications. Paper 70.